Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lobbying and The Maximum Contribution

Lobbying and The Maximum Contribution

“Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted”

-Bruce Springsteen

Lobbying is not fashionable these days. I called a lobbyist friend and asked him if the media bashing was bothering him. He said, "no matter how much they complain, the lawmakers need us around."

He is probably right. Lobbyists know their way around government.

Rick Robinson knows about lobbyists and knows the political game. For the past 30 years, he's been a big time player in Washington and Kentucky. Rickwas legislative director for Congressman Jim Bunning and ran for Congress when Bunning moved up to the Senate.

Now he is a novelist. The Maximum Contribution (Headline Books publisher) is loosely based on Rick's experience as a candidate and inside player.

Rick and I go back a long ways. We became friends in student government at Eastern Kentucky University and shared an office when he was the student member of the Board of Regents.

He had pictures of Reagan on his desk. I had pictures of Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. We became close anyway.

His run for Congress was a rare time when I campaigned for a Republican. In fact, I think it was the only time.

I asked him to add a note for my book about Ernie Fletcher. He wrote, "I'm glad that SOB wasn't writing when I ran for office."

I printed it. It's on the back cover of the book.

He asked me to give a quote for his book. A no win situation for me. I didn't want to give the same style of quote that he did and I don't really like to read novels. I'm a non fiction kind of guy. I live in a reality show world.

I liked his novel. A lot.

Once I started, I literally did not put down The Maximum Contribution. I stayed up half the night to finish it.

It is a political thriller and an insider's guide to how Washington works. I don't want to give away the plot but Rudy Maxa, a former investigative reporter for the Washington Post, said, "Rick Robinson has vividly captured the essence of the deals that make or more than likely... break so many DC politicians."

Rick's gritty but realistic insight is how the game is played.

Lobbyist bashing has become a popular sport. I'm not sure who to blame. I don't know if I blame the lobbyists for trying to influence legislation or the elected officials for allowing themselves to be influenced.

Your view on lobbying probably depends on what the lobbyist is asking for.

I don't like the payday loan industry and think their lobbyists are probably slime. I make most of my income from setting up structured settlement annuities for injured people. I view their lobbyists as outstanding legislative representatives who are doing God's work.

It's all a matter of where you sit and where you draw your income.

Some lobbying groups are completely out of control. The groups that represent credit card companies have had their way in Washington. They passed "bankruptcy reform" which was a classic case of reverse Robin Hood. It took from the poor to give to the rich.

The Maximum Contribution's subplot revolves around an obscure tax break allowing businesses to set up off shore operations. I don't know why big corporations should be rewarded for taking jobs and resources OUT of the United States but I am sure some high powered lobbyist can tell me why.

Read the book. It is a fun read and gives insight into political lies that can leave us lost and brokenhearted.

Don McNay is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. You can write to him at or read other things he has written at

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunshine Laws & The Town Crier

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy."

-John Denver

March 16 to 22 was 'Sunshine Week." It was a week to focus on open government and freedom of information.

I am for all freedom of information, expect when it applies to me. It is the same sentiment that many public officials have.

I learned about public disclosure at a young age.

When I was 16, I got a speeding ticket. I did not fear the justice system. I feared my mother.

The Northern Kentucky Post had a section called the Town Crier. It listed people's secrets and dirty laundry. If you went to court for any reason, it wound up in the Town Crier.

Like my neighbors, my family denounced the Town Crier as a horrible invasion of privacy. Like my neighbors, my family read it every day.

I knew my mom would see my Town Crier debut.

I tried a cover up. For two weeks, I watched for the news carrier and rushed to catch the paper. I stood in the yard, read the Town Crier and brought the paper in after vetting.

I eventually found my name and proceeded to "lose" that section of the paper. The next day, mom was waiting in the driveway.

She had read the missing section at work.

She grounded me for the rest of my life but I eventually got probation.

The Town Crier was a better security measure than the police. I prayed I would never be in it again.

Joe Hackett, one of my high school teachers, took the Town Crier to a new level. He would read the list of offenders to the study halls and embarrass the student in front of everyone else.

Public humiliation worked. Few classmates made more than one appearance.

The Kentucky Post shut down last year. As papers decline in circulation, the Town Crier sections are the first to go. Few papers print minor traffic violations. If they do, few people read them.

We don't know our neighbors like we once did. That is ironic as our every move is being recorded.

I assume I don't have any privacy. I suspect all of my phone calls are listened to and someone is reading my mail. Someone knows what web pages I view and what television shows I watch.

I don't like it but I don't know what to do about it.

There was a comfort level when my neighbors were doing the watching. They had standards I wanted to meet.

Peer pressure and social acceptance shape a person's character.

Almost every president, with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, came from a small town. A reason has to be that they grew up with a formal or informal version of the Town Crier.

They learned that it was hard to get away with doing something wrong. They learned it was even harder to cover it up.

A couple of years ago, I wrote that Eliot Spitzer might be president. I'm embarrassed that I said it but I missed a key element. Spitzer had grown up in New York City.

Elliot didn't have the Town Crier style of indoctrination.

Spitzer never experienced his mother waiting for him with the newspaper in her hand. I doubt he was ever grounded for the rest of his life. He never had to live up to his neighbors expectations.

He grew up thinking that he could get away with something.

I'm sure public officials hate the concept of freedom of information. If they screw up, they don't want the world to find out. They would rather us not know about insider deals.

Sunshine laws work like my mother waiting in the driveway. They ensure that people will be exposed and they keep public officials in line before they make a poor decision.

If you can't defend your actions in the newspaper, don't do it. Someone is going to find out.

Sunshine laws make me happy and make for better government.

Don McNay is the Chairman of McNay Settlement Group. He is the Secretary for the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. You can read his award winning syndicated column at or write to him at